Sunday, December 26, 2010

Creating a Holy Family

Homily for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Sirach 3.2-6, 12-14 Psalm 128 Colossians 3.12-21 Matthew 2.13-15, 19-23

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

One of my Christmas traditions each year is to watch the movie The Nativity Story. If you’ve seen this movie, you know it is a beautiful depiction of the familiar gospel story of the birth of Jesus. One of the things I’ve always loved about this movie is that it gives equal attention to both Mary and Joseph. So much of the time, Joseph gets forgotten or left out of Christmas carols, stories and celebrations. But he’s always there, silently watching over Mary and Jesus, humbly accepting the role he never asked for as foster-father of his Savior. In the movie The Nativity Story, we are given a glimpse of what it might have been like for Joseph as he struggles to understand and accept God’s will for his life. But even more, we see the gentle, sincere love he has for Mary as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. At one point on the journey, they are running low on bread. Joseph divides what little they have not between him and Mary, but between Mary and the donkey carrying her, both of whom need strength more than he does. It’s a simple sacrifice, but it shows great love and kindness.

It’s this sacrifice and love that make the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph a holy family. St. Paul could have been speaking of them when he wrote to the Colossians, about a family that was filled with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness; a family grounded in love, filled with peace, and thankful for God’s blessings. It is in this context that we hear the final lines of this reading, about wives being subordinate to their husbands, husbands loving their wives, children obeying their parents, and fathers not provoking their children. We can get hung up on the subordination, but what St. Paul is really saying is that a holy family is one in which each person puts the needs of the other people in the family ahead of themselves. A holy family is one in which the husband puts his wife first, before his own wants and needs; a holy family is one in which the wife puts her husband first before her own wants and needs; a holy family is one in which children appreciate the love of their parents and the parents respect their children. A holy family has put aside all selfishness, pride, jealousy, and greed and has made the love of Christ the center of everything they are and everything they do.

The challenge for us is that we’re each called to be part of a holy family; it’s not just a title for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And with so many things these days threatening marriage and family, it’s harder to conceive of a family at all, let alone a holy family. The sad reality of divorce, attempts to redefine what marriage is, TV and movies that lack examples of successful families, a consumer mentality that focuses on having more things rather than on learning to love – all these things and more make it harder and harder for anyone who tries to live as a holy family. What we can do is look to the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and learn from them. We can learn what it means to sacrifice. We can learn what it means to love. We can learn what is means to grow and mature together. We can learn what it means to make Christ the center of our family life. It doesn’t always work out the way we think it should, and it definitely won’t work if any one member of a family refuses to try. Everyone has to be on the same page, working to achieve the same goal. Our families won’t be perfect – they can’t be as long as we’re human. But they can be holy if we want them to be.

Living from the Manger

Homily for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Christmas is a time for family and friends. It is a time for giving generously and receiving humbly. But most of all, it is a time to celebrate the birth of one child many ages ago, a child who guides us still today.

Holy Child within the manger, long ago yet ever near;
Come as friend to ev’ry stranger, come as hope for ev’ry fear.
As you lived to heal the broken, greet the outcast, free the bound,
As you taught us love unspoken, teach us now where you are found.*

It is this child who brings us here today. Every student and every teacher I know looks forward to Christmas break. These days are a time to break from our normal routine, to set aside our studies or our lesson plans so we can have time to spend with family and friends. But just because there’s no school on the days around Christmas doesn’t mean we stop learning. And even those of us who haven’t set foot in a classroom in years can still learn, and should still learn, from a master teacher, from the child whose birth brings us together today, the child in the manger, whose life, death, and resurrection teach us all we need to know about who we are and who God is. And these are lessons that are worth repeating year after year.

Once again we tell the story how your love for us was shown,
when the image of your glory wore an image like our own.
Come, enlighten with your wisdom, come and fill us with your grace.
May the fire of your compassion kindle ev’ry land and race.

Sixty years ago today (yesterday), the first Mass was held at the newly-formed Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in New Albany. 300 families called this parish “home” back in 1950, and over the years they grew and developed into a vibrant faith community, worshipping God day after day, serving one another and the local community, educating and forming thousands of young people, and always “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12.2). Sixty years after that first Mass, we have grown to over 1200 families, with over seventy ministries and organizations. It’s a busy place around here, and much has changed in the last 60 years. But some things haven’t changed. Today, we still look at the little child in the manger to be our example, we still look to the man he became hanging on the cross as our redeemer, we remember his resurrection from the dead as our hope and promise. And we pledge to follow Him wherever we go.

Holy Child within the manger, lead us ever in your way,
So we see in ev’ry stranger how you come to us today.
In our lives and in our living give us strength to live as you,
That our hearts might be forgiving and our spirits strong and true.

This Christmas, and each day, may Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, continue to guide us and strengthen us, so we may always “live the Gospel, celebrate meaningful worship, and call one another to prayer, Christian Service, and fellowship” (OLPH Mission Statement).

*Lyrics from Carol at the Manger, text and music by Marty Haugen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Obedient Listening

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 7.10-14 Psalm 24 Romans 1.1-7 Matthew 1.18-24

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Anyone can be a saint. Anyone can be holy. But to do that, we have to change. This Advent, we have been reflecting on how we can become holy, how we can become saints. We started on the First Sunday of Advent by hearing the story of St. Augustine, who reminded us that wanting to be holy doesn’t depend on who we are or what our life has been like; it simply takes a change of heart. On the Second Sunday of Advent, we reflected on the necessity of being welcoming and hospitable to everyone we meet. Last weekend, on the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard the call from St. Paul to not complain about one another, and we looked at the great power of words to both encourage and harm the people around us. Today, we hear one final lesson in the Scriptures, one more challenge to help us become holy: like Joseph, we must listen to God and be obedient to him. This last lesson might be the hardest part of trying to become a saint, especially for us today.

The first part is to listen to God – and the more noise we have in our lives, the harder it is to pick out God’s voice from all the many voices that compete for our attention. To hear God’s voice we have to spend time in prayer, reading Scripture, and growing in our faith – and then we have to tune out everything else and find silence. It’s not that God only speaks in silence, but that’s when it’s easiest for us to listen, because nothing else is competing for our attention. To become holy, we have to listen to God, we have to find some silence in our lives and spend quality time in prayer.

But then we have to take the next step. Joseph didn’t just listen to what God had to say, he obeyed God, even when God was asking him to do something he didn’t want to do. To do that takes courage. It takes faith. But most of all it takes trust. If we trust that God always has our best intentions in mind, if we trust that he will never abandon us, if we trust that he will always lead us toward joy and happiness, then we will follow him and obey him always. And the more we come to know God, the more we learn to trust him. When we see all the great things he is able to do, when we feel the outpouring of his love and grace, when we can trace the ways he has directed our lives, even through hardships and suffering – when we see what God has done, then trust becomes natural.

You might say that’s the difference between someone who is truly holy and someone who’s still working on it. A really holy person, a saint, trusts in God all the time. Most of us aren’t there yet. We want to trust God, but we have a hard time doing it. We have a hard time figuring out God’s plan, especially understanding the reason for the sufferings and trials that are in our paths. But if we really want to be holy, we have to work hard each day on listening to God, trusting in him, and obediently following his will for our lives. Because the truth is that God is in control, God is in charge of our lives. And if we learn to trust, then with God’s grace, we will find peace and joy in this life, and eternal happiness in the life to come.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Words Among Us

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35.1-6a, 10 Psalm 146 James 5.7-10 Matthew 11.2-11

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

We live in a time when it is commonly accepted that people can say whatever they want, whenever they want. Of course there are good things about this freedom of speech, and I would never want us to get rid of this fundamental freedom. But as Christians, we want to be holy – we want to be saints. And so we have a responsibility to look at the words we say and prudently, prayerfully decide whether those words are appropriate, truthful, and necessary. We might think about the jokes we tell and whether they are appropriate conversation for Christians who want to be holy. Or we might need to remember the second commandment, to not take the name of the Lord in vain. And there are times when we need to speak up for the truth, speaking especially for the rights of human beings who can’t speak for themselves.

But in today’s reading from St. James, we hear about one of the most common and destructive ways of using words. The apostle tells us, “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.” And how often we complain. That person’s driving too slow. Doesn’t anybody know how to drive any more? Or: This person’s always late – doesn’t she know we’re in a hurry? Or: Whoever made this coffee just doesn’t know what they’re doing – it tastes like colored water. Now, sometimes these things are true. But the question we have to ask ourselves is: why are we saying something? Is it privately, to the person involved, genuinely wanting to help them to be a better person? Or is it behind their back, to a group of friends who don’t even know the person we’re talking about? Or is it said to people who do know the person and the situation, and we’re trying to affect other people’s opinions. And that brings us to a particular type of complaining: gossip.

Complaining that a person is always late is one thing. But it’s pure gossip when you tell the rest of your dinner guests that the person is probably late because you heard they were having an affair with someone at work. So is telling your friends at the coffee shop that the reason the coffee is so weak is because you can tell just by looking at her that the waitress is on drugs and the poor thing probably can’t even figure out how to measure the right amount of coffee. Gossip uses words to injure or destroy a person’s reputation. A lot of the time, gossip is based on hearsay – and rumors of what someone said that they heard someone else say can spread like the wind and can change as quickly as the weather in Indiana. Sometimes, the gossip might be true – and we might think it’s ok to tell other people something as long as it is true. But truth spoken to the wrong person in the wrong way can do just as much harm as lies. And neither truth nor lies need to be shared when they injure another person. So why do people gossip? A lot of the time, people gossip because it makes them the center of attention – everyone wants to talk to them, because they know all the juicy news about people. Or they might be intimidated by other people and want to tear down their reputation. Or it might just feel good to gossip – you don’t have to watch soap operas when you can talk about all the messes the people you know are in – and we can avoid working on our own faults by spending our time talking about the faults of others. And of course, people often gossip simply because they get lured into it – once one person starts talking about other people, it’s hard to stop.

So what are we as Christians to do? The first thing is to recognize how important and significant words are. Every word that comes from our lips has an impact on other people. As Christians, we are called to speak prudently, truthfully, lovingly – not selfishly or falsely. When other people around us gossip or complain or tell inappropriate jokes or whatever it may be, we can walk away or stop the conversation where it is. But we also have to look at ourselves. Much of the time, the words we speak that hurt others are really a mask for our own weaknesses. And we don’t think about how our words impact other people. Our goal as Christians should be to build up one another with our words and actions. If you have a problem with another person – go directly to that person, as Jesus tells us in the gospels. If you’re tempted to judge someone, remember that there is only one judge – God the Father. We’re here to help one another get to know God – to help one another become holy. Remember, anyone can be a saint. But to do that we have to change. Our words have to become more and more like the words of Christ. It's not easy. But with God's help, we can do it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Welcome Change

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 11.1-10 Psalm 72 Romans 15.4-9 Matthew 3.1-12

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Anyone can be a saint. Anyone can be holy. But to do that, we have to change. We can’t be content with the ordinary. We can’t be content with the world as it is. For these next three weekends of Advent, I’d like to reflect on three different ways we can change in order to become more holy, in order to prepare our hearts and souls to welcome Christ at Christmas. We start this week with St. Paul writing to the church in Rome. St. Paul tells us that we must “welcome one another … as Christ welcomed” us (Romans 15.7). The first way we can change is to be more welcoming and hospitable to the people we meet.

On the one hand, the season of preparation for Christmas is almost naturally other-focused – we spend our time writing cards and notes to send to friends and family, we shop for gifts for our loved ones, we attend family and office parties. Many of us even help provide Christmas cheer to people who are struggling in whatever way, by participating in programs like our own Operation Santa Claus or working with any of a number of other community organizations. But these very things that are meant to help us focus on other people can easily get turned inside out. We lose our patience or our temper waiting in check-out lines or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We divide people into categories based on how much they mean to us – and whether they will get a gift or a card or nothing at all from us this Christmas. And we get so busy with the things we have to do or we want to do, that we don’t even notice the person we shut the door on, or the co-worker we ignored in the parking lot, or the lonely neighbor who really only wants someone to visit and to share a pot of coffee. How can we be welcoming and inviting this Advent? How can we let other people know that we want them a part of our lives, and we want to be a part of their lives?

It might start right here at church. Maybe you see someone here you don’t know – or someone who has sat in the next pew over from you for years, but you don’t know their name. Say hello – introduce yourself – help them feel welcome. Hospitality at church is not just the job of the greeters – we are all called to welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. Beyond here, you might find a chance to be welcoming for a family member or friend or neighbor who doesn’t go to church regularly. Invite them to join you for Christmas Mass. If you know a Catholic who has been away from the Church for a while, invite them to Catholics Returning Home, which will start right after Christmas. Or if you know someone who is not able to get to church, take them a bulletin and a poinsettia and some cookies, and help them to still feel welcome in your life and in the life of the community. These are pretty simple things, but they make a world of difference. But of course being welcoming doesn’t happen just at church. If you have someone in your family who is always left out or ostracized, take the courageous step to invite them to dinner or to the family Christmas gathering. Or if you know someone who’s going to be alone on Christmas, invite them to share some time with you or your family. It’s not always easy to do those things, but we are called to see Christ in every person, no matter who they are and what our relationship with them has been like. For most of us, it takes a change of heart or change of mind. And it definitely takes a deliberate choice to step out of our own little bubble and look around us. Remember, anyone can be a saint. But to do that, we have to change. We have to open our hearts to welcome all people as Christ welcomes us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Week One Talks: November and December

On the first Wednesday of each month, our parish hosts a full-community faith formation evening called Week One. Part of our One Church, One Faith: Total Parish Faith Formation Program, these evenings bring together about 200 parishioners of all ages for a shared meal, faith formation in age-appropriate groups on a common topic, and night prayer. Each month, I spend the faith formation time with the adults giving a presentation/discussion on the topic of the night. The talks for the past two months were recorded, and they can be listened to or downloaded by clicking on the links below. Both talks are about one hour in length. Feel free to pass the links on to anyone else who might be interested.

November Week One Adult Faith Formation Talk - The Saints

December Week One Adult Faith Formation Talk - The Liturgical Year